Obama’s Grandparents, On His Mother’s Side

Stanley and Madelyn Dunham.

Other bloggers have picked it up but I want to join in the chorus and say that Ta-Nehisi Coates’s post about Obama’s maternal grandparents is very thoughtful and beautifully written. Coates himself is one of the best bloggers around, partially because of his intellectual curioisity. He doesn’t stop at his own ideas but is constantly trying to push himself to see the world anew.

An excerpt:

Likewise, I was looking at this picture of Obama’s grandparents and thinking how much he looks like his grandfather. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I was struck by the fact that they had made the decision to love their daughter, no matter what, and love their grandson, no matter what. I’d bet money that they never even thought of themselves as courageous, that they didn’t give much thought to the broader struggles in the the world at the time. They were just doing what right, honorable people do. But the fact is that, in the 60s, you could be disowned for falling in love with a black woman or black man. There is a reason why we have a long history of publicly biracial black people, but not so much of publicly biracial white people.

The world inside his head

"On a midnight voyage", Chris Berens (2008)
"On a midnight voyage", Chris Berens (2008)

The people inside your head — what do they look like? I don’t mean the real ones — although I know that the real people inside your head don’t look exactly like the real people outside of it, which means they’re made up too, at least a little — I mean the ones that aren’t real, but that you’ve seen since childhood. Well, perhaps not seen, not recently anyway, so much as lived alongside; as busy adults, we no longer ponder our own minds, but this fact doesn’t drive these other residents out or make them vanish. It simply means we’re no longer looking at them. Yet stop for a moment and try to recall them to mind. Continue reading

Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, 1987-2007

Elsheba Khan, the mother of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, at her son’s grave (photo from here  and here).

Like any other political figure, Colin Powell can and should be criticized for his record. As Secretary of State in the first George W. Bush Administration,  Powell more than anyone helped sell the Iraq war to the American public, putting his immense reputation on the line for a dubious cause. The fact that Powell and his staff had private misgivings about the war makes his complicity worse, not better.

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The Choice

The Choice is an absorbing documentary about the 2008 election available on PBS’s Web site. I wasn’t able to sleep the other night and wound up watching the whole thing. It tells the life story of the two candidates and recounts their paths to their respective nominations. McCain comes off as a sympathetic figure on an individual level, albeit one who has had to make compromises with the religious right in order to please his party. The material on Obama is especially interesting. It describes his experiences as both a community organizer in Chicago, “the capital of black America,” and as president of the Harvard Law Review. A former editor of the Review who went on to become White House counsel describes the political battles inside the law journal as more nasty and vicious than anything in Washington. Obama, however, managed to unite the fractious staff, which we can hope is a sign of things to come should he win the presidency.

A bunch of other PBS documentaries, including several about Bush and Iraq, are available here.

Imploding domino

An angry crowd protests power cuts in Multan, Pakistan
April 15, 2008: An angry crowd protests power cuts in Multan

As both myself and Jeet Heer have noted recently, American military policy towards Pakistan’s tribal areas has recently taken a more aggressive turn, with stepped up missile strikes and even an unauthorized ground attack by U.S. special forces. Although American generals have not launched additional incursions — the policy has not yet turned into a re-run of the invasion of Cambodia in 1970 — they are playing a most dangerous game that risks destabilizing the country for the sake of killing some Taliban leaders.

Pakistan’s increasing fragility as a state was the subject of a powerful essay last week in the Washington Post by Indiana University’s Sumit Ganguly, a longtime observer of Pakistani politics. How grim is the news?:

Today’s ongoing crisis — marked by a rash of suicide bombings, the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last December, inflation as high as 25 percent and a resurgent Taliban movement — could spell doom for the Pakistani state itself. The global financial crisis has only made matters worse: Pakistan’s foreign-exchange reserves are collapsing, and credit markets are worried that it could soon default on its debt payments. The grim truth is that Pakistan is becoming something alarmingly close to a failed state.

What’s most effective about Ganguly’s piece is the comprehensive but concise overview of the 60-year path that has gotten Pakistan to this precipice. A failed state, after all, is rarely the work of a year.

Notes on an Obama Smear

Amir Taheri’s most famous scoop.


When reading a newspaper article, often the most important fact is contained not in the body of the text but in the by-line. If you know who wrote a story, you can make a good guess as to its accuracy and intent. Take for example this inflammatory article that appeared in the New York Post on October 14th, purporting to be an interview with Jesse Jackson offering insight into the Middle East policies that Barack Obama would pursue as president. The article was written by the Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri. Here is the key passage in the article:


[Jackson] promised “fundamental changes” in US foreign policy – saying America must “heal wounds” it has caused to other nations, revive its alliances and apologize for the “arrogance of the Bush administration.”


The most important change would occur in the Middle East, where “decades of putting Israel‘s interests first” would end.


Jackson believes that, although “Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades” remain strong, they’ll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House.


Even on first glance, this passage is slightly suspicious, although it has lots of quotations it also has some blurry language (“Jackson believes” rather than “Jackson says”) and the single most salient bit of news (that “Zionists” will “lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House”) is not a quote at all but a paraphrase.

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Reflections on the Last Canadian Election

Sans Everything is a Canadian blog but a large chunk of our readers are not lucky enough to be live in the great, white north. So I’ve written up an analysis of the recent, very complicated, election, trying to explain what just happened:


1. The Conservatives have won a second minority government in a row but their actual electoral strength is low: In 2006 they got 36.24% of the vote for 124 seats; this time they have 37.64% of the vote for 143 seats. (You need 155 seats to form a majority government).


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It’s David Gergen’s world. We just live in it.


Lynn University).
David Gergen, chick-magnet (Credit: Lynn University).

Maybe you’ve seen David Gergen on CNN, talking about American politics. Maybe you though he was just another political TV guy. Boy, were you wrong. He inspires mad passionate crazy love on the part of women everywhere. Just ask Jessi Klein:


The moment I realized my feelings were more serious was in late September, right after the first presidential debate. Gergen was on for hours, and I found myself on the couch, riveted, a glass of Cabernet by my feet, hands wrapped around my knees as I leaned forward to capture every word, every thought, every—oh, be still my fluttering heart, was that a little chuckle?

And then all of a sudden my face felt hot. I was blushing. I was loving David Gergen.

How do I love David Gergen? Let me count the ways.

I love his low, quiet voice. That unmodulated buttery whisper that sounds like it’s elbowing its way past a cough drop that’s permanently lodged at the back of his throat. You know how Bed Bath & Beyond sells those white noise machines that help you sleep? And they usually make ocean noises? I want one that’s just David Gergen gently muttering about the economy.

She’s not the only one who feels that way. Check out her comment thread for even more Gergen-mania.  (“I found myself rushing for pen and paper to carefully spell out his beautiful name D-A-V-I-D G-E-R-G-E-N. . . . Thank you for recognizing the beauty of this amazing man.”)

The Real Winner of the Election in Canada…

… is voter apathy. 59.1% of the eligible population voted in this last election, down from 64.7% in 2006. As recently as the early 1990s, more than 70%  of the electorate voted. Voter apathy is perhaps the biggest problem in Canadian politics. The party that can figure out how to bring in non-voters could cause a political earthquake.